Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Dead Air (The Wire #414)

The Wire #414 - a Minimalism special - contains my short history of broadcast radio silence (precursors to John Cage's unrealised 1948 plan to broadcast silence over the Muzak cable network).  The piece does, however, contain an editorial distortion! Hopefully I can provide an errata here.

It's frustrating when meaning is lost during editorial trimming down of writing, but a paid outlet for new research (even if slightly maimed by editors) is preferable to the unpaid academic journals who often disparage submissions from non-institutional researchers like me.... so... mustn't grumble too much.

The BBC's ticking clock, c.1930.
For silent moments in programmes.
I'd written about the 'ghost in galoshes' - the nickname given to the BBC's ticking clock sound that reassured 1930s listeners during silent moments within radio programmes.  15-minutes of this ticking was broadcast in October 1932 when the script for J. B. Priestley's talk To a Highbrow was mislaid.  I'd originally written that this 'dead air' was rebroadcast via a transatlantic line to the US CBS network at a reported cost of £2-per-minute.  However, in the editing (without my knowledge), this crucial detail about the transatlantic relay was removed, leading readers to assume that merely broadcasting silence itself cost £2-per-minute (roughly £100-per-minute today).

Despite this failing, the piece may have interest for anyone curious about the origin of the radio term 'dead air'.  Modern glossaries date it to the 1940s, but my research indicates it originates in late-1920s New York radio circles.  One of its earliest appearances is in a rare little dictionary of radio slang printed in early 1931, compiled by New York-based CBS engineer Irving Reis: the entry reads "Dead Air - Absence of broadcasting" alongside "Dead Mike" (an unconnected microphone).  Technological progress has rendered most other featured terms obsolete: 'Soup' (current fed to the aerial), 'Woof' (signal to start a programme), or 'Motorboating' (a distinctive sound produced when powered microphones had insufficient volume) are all unfamiliar now.

'Dead air' also appears in a transcript of spoken testimony dated November 1st 1929 during an appeal by the imperilled station WMAK against the Federal Radio Commission, who were insistent that stations in New York's overcrowded ether use their wavelength to full capacity.  Here, newspaper reporter and employee of the station WGR for Buffalo, New York - William G. Cook - used the term at least twice weighing up instances of radio silence.  As the Wire piece states, the negative term originated in America where airtime was precious, yet broadcast silence was more valued in other countries (notably the UK and Japan).  The BBC's director-general John Reith stated in January 1930: "We need silence badly, and consciously or unconsciously long for it"...

William G. Cook (left) and Irving Reis (right) - responsible for early appearances of the term 'dead air' in print.
Read more in this month's The Wire #414 for more - 'When Less Is More'

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Meadow House 2LP 'tapedropping' anthology in Freq e-zine

Many thanks to Mr. Olivetti for writing such a generous and in-depth review of the two new limited edition Meadow House LPs for Freq.  It can be read in full in the Freq - here.

Meadow House LPs 'Misadventures on the Scorn Cycle' and 'This should not be happening' - copies still available.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

The Wire #409 - Psyphonics: Further Listening


Coined by soundscape theorists Stuart Gage and Bernie Krause, the terms biophony, geophony and anthrophony have come to represent the complete range of sound-types audible within natural recordings (referring to biological sounds, geological sounds, and human/machine sounds).  March's eclectic issue of The Wire (#409) features my piece on psyphony - an impish addition to this trio.

Gage and Krause's terminological trinity isn't a totally inviolable gamut.  The definitions can be chipped away to some pedantic extent, e.g., where do those rare sounds that penetrate earth's atmosphere from outer space fit into this?  Appropriate terms might be 'cosmophony'(?) or 'astrophony'(?).  But I digress slightly...  The Wire's article - appropriately titled 'Further Listening' - goes far beyond this into more wayward territories, introducing psyphony as a capturing of hypothetical intangible essences of thought and idea within sound.  (Readers of this blog may be reminded of the previous blogposts on Delawarr Laboratories' "thought-to-sound" experiments).

Without giving away too much of the piece (which is a fun 'thought piece' whilst also containing fresh research-nuggets such as the BBC's radio telepathy experiments and J. Tyssul Davis' odd never-before-discussed 1928 publication The Sound of Your Face), it will suffice to say that the term psyphony can be applied to audio pieces that challenge or call into question the extent of any hearing person's sonic perception.  However spurious psyphony may appear, its concept can be discerned within today's experimental music and radio art, from occult/quasi-occult sound practices (for example - Silent Records' compilation Tulpamancers: A Collection of Sonic Thoughtforms) to the more procedural technologically-geared sonifications and data mappings (as with Masaki Batoh's Brain Pulse Music).  It spans various genres.  The concept of psyphonics came into focus whilst contemplating Viewfound's EP Memorate, a dense ambient EP aiming to capture memory essences.  The concept was also tentatively trotted out to describe the fascinating sound-work of Aki Onda.

Silent Records' compilation Tulpamancers / Shimmering Moods releases: Memorate by Viewfound / Resonant Moments by Andrew Tasselmyer
Some may view psyphony as indicative of a recoil from modernity's technological materialism.  To those who may decry its 'woolliness', they should bear in mind that similar ideas can be found in plain sight in the most sedate framings...  When I first visited The Wire magazine's office some years ago - back when they were situated on the upper floor of a building near Spitalfields Market - interesting music was being played.  I asked what the piece of music was.  I can't remember the answer to this, but more memorable was the casual remark that every month, any music played in the office gets listed in The Wire's special 'Office Ambience' tracklist.  As a little metaphysical aside, it was quipped that the music heard in the office might be somehow ingrained - as a quantum essence - within that month's issue.  It was said in jest... but as George Orwell once commented: "every joke is a tiny revolution"....

The full particulars on 'psyphonics' can be read in The Wire #409, March 2018 - out now.